Peru: Cajamarca martyrs put to rest amid ongoing civil strike

On July 6, in a silent mass demonstration that filled the central plaza of Celendín town, last rites were held for three of the five campesinos killed in protests against the Conga mine project in Peru’s northern region of Cajamarca last week. The caskets, draped with banners reading “CONGA NO VA,” were carried in a motorcade through villages in the region, where gathered crowds paid their respects. The flags at the offices of the regional government were flown at half mast. Cajamarca remains under an indefinite paro, or civil strike, launched May 31 to demand an end to the Conga project. (AQP Soluciones, July 7; Noticiera Bambamarquino, July 6)

Church called in to dialogue

A team of clergy led by Trujillo Archbishop Miguel Cabrejos arrived in Cajamarca to initiate a dialogue on the conflict on July 9. The team met with regional president Gregorio Santos and struggle leaders Idelso Hernández (representing Cajamarca province), Milton Sánchez (Celendín) and Edy Benavides (Bambamarca). Leaders Marco Arana and Wilfredo Saavedra apparently did not attend. In an interview with Canal N TV, Prime Minister Oscar Valdes lectured: “What Mr. Santos must understand is what is best for Peru. This is what the facilitators have to tell him.” (La Republica, Platts, July 9)

OAS rights body expresses concern
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish) issued a statement July 6 expressing its concern over the situation in Cajamarca, and urging Peru’s government to guarantee the lives and security of protesters there. Calling on the security forces to observe international norms on the use of force, the statement also appealed to protesters to enter into a dialogue. (CIDH, July 6)

More evidence of disappearing waters
Days before last week’s violence, Yanacocha, the company that seeks to develop the Conga mine and already runs the giant Yanacocha mine in the region, announced the construction of of four new reservoirs to protect the water resources of the zones under exploitation. But residents report that the San José reservoir in Baños del Inca district, built by the company for community use five years ago with a capacity of 6 million cubic meters of water, has been dry since the end of last year. The region’s legislative deputy Jorge Rimarachín has publicly denounced the situation, and warned that this could be the fate of the new reservoirs as well. Yanacocha’s director for environmental and social responsibility Luis Campos Aboado said the reservoir was dry due to maintenance work. (La Republica, July 6)

Toxic spill reported
Although it received no other press coverage, the Cajamarca environmental blog Caballero Verde reported July 9 that a Yanacocha truck carrying a “toxic substance” was in accident on a mountain road in San Pablo province. A team of two men wearing chemical gear and gas masks was dispatched to the site, near a locally famous obelisk commemorating the 1882 Battle of San Pablo in the War of the Pacific with Chile. Local residents report the substance gave off a strong unpleasant odor. No official statement was made about the accident. The blog also reports that last month a tank-truck full of petrol was in an accident, spilling much of its cargo into the Río Tambillo near Granja Porcón, Cajamarca province. (Caballero Verde, July 9)

“Mother Earth Flag” tours Peru
To build support for the campaign in Cajamarca and forge unity with similar struggles around Peru, a delegation is traveling throughout the country with the “World’s Largest Ecological Flag” that has been seen throughout the protests against the Conga project. The green banner adorned with symbols of the earth is some 50 meters (164 feet) long, and dubbed the Mamapachapa Unanchan, Quechua for the Flag of Mother Earth. The tour will end in Cuzco, the site of other anti-minig struggles, and pass through Chiclayo, Trujillo, Lima, Ica, Arequipa and other cities. (Politica Sociedad blog, July 7)

Quellevaco project moves ahead
In another controversial project, AngloAmerican mining company announced it is ready to move ahead with mega-scale copper exploitation plans at Quellaveco copper project in Moquegua region, having won community support for its water preservation plan. The company is now waiting for approval of the $3 billion project from President Ollanta Humala’s government. The project’s environmental impact study was approved by the government under the previous administration of Alan García, but it is still awaiting final permits from the Ministry of Mines & Energy (MINEM). At issue in the water plan is the Río Tambo, which local agricultural communities depend on. Last September saw a regional paro against the Quellaveco project, and the Tambo Valley Defense Front says it will mobilize again if the project moves ahead. Front leader Pepe Julio Gutiérrez warned: “IOf they divert the tributaries of the Tambo, there will be a slow death of agriculture. We already have water shortages.” (Reuters, July 10; RPP, July 9; La Republica, May 14; La Republica, Sept. 27)

Hugo Blanco sees new struggle for water
Hugo Blanco, a revered leader of campesino struggles in Cuzco region in the 1960s, told a Spanish interviewer that he now supports the contemporary movements to defend water sources and rights against mineral, hydro-electric and agribusiness projects. He said: “Before, in my time, we struggled for the land, therefore our cry was ‘Land or Death’; but now the struggle is for water.” (Publico, Spain, July 8)

See our last posts on Peru and regional struggles over water and minerals.

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    1. Mother Earth
      greetings to all the people standing up to Mother Earth, we in Aotearoa New Zealand who are challenging the same mining companies you are fighting e.g. Newmont Gold!
      In solidarity